Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway
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N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss • Timothy Orr • Laura Orr
Birds Art Life: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant
Author Kyo Maclear presents a fragile fluid commentary of her inner impressions as she spends a year taking note of birds in her urban setting. Following a pied-piper leader who is part musician and part ornithologist, she comes to appreciate the winged flyers in her environment. The observations associated with their sightings trigger her reflections on her relationships, family, and outlook. As a voracious reader, the writings are seeded with quotes from past masters. Her background is reviewed while looking at her relationships with her barn-storming journalistic father and her reticent, delicate, creative mother and how she has become the product of her parents. Reviewing past loves, she now is tranquil with her supportive, musical husband and two young, expressive sons. The twelve chapters, one for each month, read like a diary as her sensitive impressions are recorded in a lyrical format. The reader can relax in the solitude of her musings as the words gently flow into the consciousness. Some of the pages are graced with quick sketches or photos related to the subject. Read about the connections elicited from birds and their links to life and art.
There is a distinctly dreamlike quality to M Train, Patti Smith’s beautiful new memoir. Smith is a musician, poet, photographer and memoirist. (Her earlier book, Just Kids, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award in 2010. Accepting the award, she said, “There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”)
Smith is also a wanderer, a pilgrim. Her lyrical phrases take us back and forth from her dreams to reality, from present to past and back again. She takes us to Mexico to visit Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, to French Guiana, to Berlin, Morocco, and Madrid. We visit the Greenwich Village café where she has coffee every day.
She takes us along as she visits the homes or graves of some of the writers she’s loved and admired. At the grave of Sylvia Plath just outside of London: “I hadn’t factored in all the snow. It reflected the chalk sky already infused with murky smears.… I was numb with cold but couldn’t bear to leave. It was such a desolate place in winter, so lonely. Why had her husband buried her here? …Why not New England by the sea, where she was born, where salt winds could spiral over the name PLATH etched in her native stone?”
And finally, she brings us to her home: “Home is the cats, my books, and my work never done. All the lost things that may one day call to me, the faces of my children who will one day call to me. Maybe we can’t draw flesh from reverie nor retrieve a dusty spur, but we can gather the dream itself and bring it back uniquely whole.”
M Train is a meditation, elegiac and elegant. It is lovely work, a friend, to be read again and again.
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant
A gift! A biography done with the carefulness and gentleness that characterized its subject, Mr. White’s work glows with polished maturity.
In this treatment, Grant’s formative years are given the same loving attention as his later, post-presidential period. The book chronicles events from his boyhood to his early army time and civilian struggle through to the Civil War and his heroic presidency. White provides an awesome scope and a view I thoroughly enjoyed, despite it not letting go of me for three long days. What could have been a tedious recounting proved an engaging immersion.
Notes comprise almost a hundred pages, done, as seems common, in a minuscule font. But those notes detail sources, source authorship, and abbreviations employed and add immense resources for any who might want to explore this superlative achiever’s life and times in greater depth. Maps with just sufficient detail that they allow following the text with complete understanding are very welcome. Photographic plates and portraiture bring characters to visual life while we read of their actions and relationships.
In detailing his schooling, early distaste for public speaking, and outstanding talent for horsemanship, the book cultivates the reader’s attachment to the lad who would play such a gigantic role.
Following an upper education at West Point, an institution that had yet to achieve the reputation he and his fellow cadets later earned for it, young Ulysses found himself serving in the Mexican War, becoming enamored of the beauty of that country and its people. That attraction later motivated his presidential support for freedom for Mexico’s people. Though he saw enough direct combat to season him, the young lieutenant found himself performing as a quartermaster for massive movements of troops. Though he disliked such tasking at the time, he excelled at it . . .which helps to explain his masterly ability to sustain great movements of men and material years later.
Several post-war assignments were stressful, often because he was separated from his wife and love, and abuse of the bottle joined his profile. That would give him difficulties later, though his biographer has been careful to demonstrate later restraint in that direction. The underpaid young officer failed in a couple of business ventures involving flooded potatoes and trying to sail tons of ice against prevailing winds.
There were family conflicts: Grant had fallen for the daughter of a slaveholder, which caused an estrangement with his own abolitionist father. Despite that, having left the army, he found himself working for the family shoe factory. Yes, Ulysses S. Grant was a shoe clerk when the Civil War broke out.
The story of Grant’s rise in rank, interactions with subordinates and commanders, maneuvering in two theaters, and eventual triumph is a large part of his life tale. The military history of those campaigns and glimpses of personalities–everyone from Lincoln to Seward to Sherman to McClellan to Longstreet–are a complete course on that conflict.
Then Grant’s almost forced accession to the presidency found him fighting for civil rights for freed slaves and for Amerindians, some of whom were still fighting federal troops. His first term was the epitome of reconstruction, battling the KKK and other reactionaries in the South.
In his second term, there were scandals, largely because the man gave trust unreservedly. And of course his successor allowed Jim Crow to emerge, sorrowing the former president. He and his loving wife toured the world, meeting adulation at every stop. U.S. Grant had become a respected citizen of the world.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Daniel Ellsberg would strike fear in the hearts of the power players in the United States government, the fear would result in paranoia and dirty tricks. Most Dangerous begins with one of the first counterstrike measures implemented by the Nixon White House: The attempt to steal Ellsberg’s psychiatric files by the White House Plumbers. Daniel Ellsberg believed in his country and in his country’s response to the upheaval in Vietnam. He would clash with his girlfriend and later second wife, Patricia, about US policy towards the North/South struggle and intervention that had been straining US resources for more than 15 years.
Ellsberg’s work and exposure to the escalating Vietnam war would span stints in the State Department and the Rand Corporation, as well as Pentagon. Ellsberg would be witness & occasional participant in Combat operations, hearing the stressing of body count/kill ratio in combat operations utilized to emphasize success in battle. Ellsberg would work with the State Department and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people, particularly those susceptible of aiding the North Vietnamese or Vietcong. As this was happening, a secret project was begun to track and analyze the Vietnam War, which would eventually become the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, disillusionment set in on Ellsberg, and the one time hawk became a dove. With his friend Tony Russo, he would initiate a dangerous operation: The copying of the Pentagon Papers for release to the Public. This action would leave him a marked man to the Powers that Be, and an icon to the Peace Movement.
Steve’s Sheinkin’s biography of Daniel Ellsberg is poignant and moving. His look into the whistleblower’s life is paralleled by the horrors of the men who would become prisoners in Vietnam, men like Admiral James Stockdale, John McCain and others. Ellsberg’s dangerous action is also one of the first dominoes to fall in the chain that will eventually result in President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Ellsberg is portrayed with his flaws, but is shown to be a good man who overcame conflicts within his soul and wanted to help for the greater good.
Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart
In Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman tackles the life of one of the most famous women writers in British history. In just under four-hundred pages, Harman relates Bronte’s life from birth until her untimely death from what Harman believes was hyperemesis gravidarum resulting from a pregnancy during her brief, but happy marriage to Arthur Nicholls. Along the way, Harman details Bronte’s isolated childhood, her difficult years as a teacher and governess, her yearning to return to her family, her unrequited passion for two men, her and her sisters’ struggles to become published, the death of her siblings, and the celebrity her work eventually engendered. Through this biography, Harman establishes Bronte as a surprisingly strong, at times difficult, but passionate woman who relied deeply on her own experiences to create her work. As a result of Bronte’s close ties to her sisters, Harman also provides interesting insights into Emily and Anne Bronte’s lives. For those intrigued by the woman behind Jane Eyre and Villette, this meticulously researched and detailed biography is sure to please.